Intro to Digital Media 


Define Digital Art and introduce the territory of Digital Media. Consider the broad shift to digital media across artistic disciplines. Explain Analog vs. Digital. Outline general goals of the class.


Digital art is any art in which computers and "digital media" play a role in production or display of the artwork. Such art can be an image, sound, animation, video, CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, videogame, web site, algorithm, performance or gallery installation. Many traditional disciplines are becoming increasingly integrated with digital technologies. As a result, the lines between traditional works of art and new media works created using computers have been blurred. For instance, an artist may combine traditional painting with algorithmic art or other digital techniques.

As a sign of the times, digital art or projects utilizing digital media are now regularly featured in international expositions and major art museum exhibits worldwide. An increasing number of "fine" artists have "gone digital". In the commercial world, comic book artists, advertising designers, graphic illustrators, and industrial designers who, in the past, would sketch a drawing in pencil before going over the drawing again with India ink are using Wacom tablets and Adobe Photoshop instead of Winsor-Newton paints and brushes. And of course the music and film industries have been completely revolutionized by the switch to ditigal.

Digital artists do what centuries of artists have always done: explore and adopt a culture's new technology toward the creation of their art. As our culture becomes increasingly invested in computers, digital artists are leading the way in exploring and defining this new culture.

Digital Artists employ many types of user interfaces that correspond to the wide variety of brushes, lenses, or other tools that traditional artists use to shape their materials. Rather than manipulating digital code directly as mathematical equations, these electronic brushes and tools allow an artist to translate hand motions, cutting and pasting, and what were formerly chemical dark room techniques into the mathematical changes that effect the arrangement of screen pixels and create a picture. Digital Art is created and stored in a non-material form in the computer's memory systems and must be made physical, usually in the form of prints on paper or some other form of "printed" substrate--including 3D objects. In addition, digital art may be exchanged and appreciated directly on a computer screen in gallery situations or simultaneously in any place on the globe with access to the web. With the advent of high quality digital printing techniques a very traditional long lasting print of this artwork can also be produced and marketed.(1)

Analog versus Digital Media

Technically speaking, the term "digital" refers to any system based on discontinuous or discrete data or events. Computers are digital machines because at their most basic level they can distinguish between just two values, 0 and 1, or off and on. There is no simple way to represent all the values in between, such as 0.25. All data that a computer processes must be encoded digitally, as a series of zeroes and ones.

The opposite of digital is "analog." A typical analog device is a clock in which the hands move continuously around the face. Such a clock is capable of indicating every possible time of day. In contrast, a digital clock is capable of representing only a finite number of times (every tenth of a second, for example). In general, humans experience the world analogically. Vision, for example, is an analog experience because we perceive infinitely smooth gradations of shapes and colors. Most analog events, however, can be simulated digitally. Photographs in newspapers, for instance, consist of an array of dots that are either black or white. From afar, the viewer does not see the dots (the digital form), but only lines and shading, which appear to be continuous.

Although digital representations are approximations of analog events, they are useful because they are relatively easy to store and manipulate electronically. The trick is in converting from analog to digital, and back again. This is the principle behind compact discs (CDs). The music itself exists in an analog form, as waves in the air, but these sounds are then translated into a digital form that is encoded onto the disk. When you play a compact disc, the CD player reads the digital data, translates it back into its original analog form, and sends it to the amplifier and eventually the speakers. Internally, computers are digital because they consist of discrete units called bits that are either on or off. But by combining many bits in complex ways, computers simulate analog events.(2)

Welcome to the Intro to Digital Media class

The "Intro to Digital Media" class is a studio course that concentrates on the basics of digital media, including imagery, typography, sound, video, animation, and the internet. We feel that it is important that you engage not only the technical dimensions of digital media--its hardware and software--but gain an appreciation of its conceptual and expressive aspects as well. Over the semester you will have the opportunity to employ a diverse range of techniques and acquaint yourself with a whole new landscape of contemporary artistic practices--most of which won't be mentioned in your standard art history surveys! While the majority of the class will consist of hands-on experimentation, along the way you will gain an appreciation of the history of digital media and learn a broad range approaches to digital media for the creation of fine art.